7 Things I Missed About Church Planting while Serving in an Established Church

By | Church, Church Planting, Church Revitalization | 12 Comments

I only had four church experiences in vocational ministry. I served twice in traditional churches where God allowed us to bring a renewed energy and growth go established churches. I was also part of two successful church plants.

God was so good to us in each of these churches – we saw growth in the churches and the people. We loved every experience and the people in each church.

I remember in our last church, which was one of the established churches, that one of our staff members, had never served in a church plant. He was a great minister, but as we shared stories, he was fascinated by how different things were at times in church planting versus the established church.

Our conversation reminded me, as much as I love the established church, there were some things I missed about church planting.

There is a companion post needed of the things I enjoyed about the established church. There are certainly benefits to an established church. I actually encourage many pastors to consider church revitalization even over church planting. Look for these thoughts in my upcoming post.

I do love things about both worlds, but they are different in many ways.

Here are 7 things I missed about church planting:

There are few “pew sitters”.

Everyone has a job in a church plant – especially early in a plant, everyone feels needed. They know if they don’t do their part – Sunday will not happen. There’s an “all hands on deck” attitude each Sunday. Ownership is a shared mentality.

People far from God feel welcome.

People come to a church plant with less reservations or wondering if they will be accepted. Even though most – at least many – established churches would welcome them just as easily. I know ours will – thankfully. But perception can be a huge front door barrier. I’ve stated numerous times in our established church – sometimes the steeple can be the biggest hindrance. Don’t misunderstand, I love and appreciate our building and the opportunities it affords us as a church. I even love our steeple, and I’m thankful for the sacrifices of those who built it long before I arrived. There is great tradition and symbolism involved. But there is something about the rawness of a church with no building, meeting in a high school, theater or rented storefront, which invites people who don’t feel they “fit in” a traditional church setting.

You see people raw.

I heard a cuss word almost every other Sunday in church planting. And, it was a part of normal conversation. They didn’t know “church’ was a place for “nice” language. If they got drunk the night before – they told you. If they were struggling to believe in God – you knew it. There was no pretense. I would rather we all had “clean” language. Drunkenness is a sin. God can be believed without reservation. But it was refreshing to know where people really stood. There was no passive aggression or pretense – something I see often in the established church – afraid, perhaps, they wouldn’t be accepted otherwise.

People bring visitors every week.

People were so excited about the church they brought their friends. What a novel idea! Sure, it happens in the established church too, but it seemed to happen more frequently in a church plant. People in the established church often feel they’ve exhausted their contacts, all their friends are already in the church, or the newness and excitement of inviting has long since past. (Obviously, this is one of the major mindsets to challenge in church revitalization.)

Small steps are celebrated.

In an established church there are so many “mature” Christians – certainly people who know all the expectations of the church and appear to follow them – a newcomer far from God can often feel they don’t measure up at all. In a church plant, which often reaches people far from God, every baby step seems to be a major step.

Change is expected.

It’s not rejected. It’s not resisted. There are no politics or the “right people” you have to talk to before you implement. Everyone knows it’s part of the process. It’s in the DNA.

Rules are not cumbersome.

Granted, there were times we probably needed a few more rules in our church plant. As our church and staff grew, we needed more structure. But the longer we are together as an organization – any organization (including the church) – the more structured we become. And, sadly, the more protective we become of the structure also. Tradition forms and its much harder to adapt to what’s needed and new.

Those are a few things I missed about church planting. Church planting is an exciting time in ministry and, as hard as it is, it’s very rewarding. My prayers go out to my church planting friends.

7 Casualties of Being a People Pleaser in Leadership

By | Church, Church Revitalization, Leadership, Organizational Leadership | 26 Comments

Leadership is hard and every decision a leader makes is subject to opinion. Different opinions. Lots of different opinions.

Every hard decision a leader makes excites some and upsets others.

At the same time, most of us who have positions of leadership want people to like us personally and in our role as a leader. We all like to be liked. This leads many leaders, however, into becoming victims of people-pleasing. When pleasing people becomes a goal, we seldom lead people into what is best and are led more by opinions of others than by vision.

Every pastor and leader I know agrees people-pleasing is not a good quality for a leader. Talking with hundreds of pastors every year, however, I’d have to say this has to be one of the most frequent weaknesses pastors admit to me. For the pastor, when our aim is to please people, many times we are motivated more by what people want than even what God wants for the church. This is obviously dangerous. Hopefully, I don’t have to build the case here.

But what are the casualties of people pleasing? What are the organizational casualties? How does it ultimately play out among people in the church or organization we are attempting to lead? Knowing these answers may help us be more determined not to allow people-pleasing to be our motivation in leadership.

Here are 7 casualties of being a people pleaser:

No one is really ever satisfied.

When the leader tries to please everyone the reality is no one on the team finds fulfillment in their work. No one. In an attempt to let everyone win – no one really does.

Tension mounts among the team.

People pleasing pits people against one another as the leader attempts to please everyone and team members are conditioned to jockey for positions with the leader aimed at pleasing them. It creates a political atmosphere among the people who should be working together.

Disloyalty is rampant.

One would think people pleasing builds loyal supporters, but actually the reverse is more true. The people-pleaser says what people want to hear more than what needs to be said. Consequently, people don’t trust a people-pleaser, because they quickly learn what the leader says isn’t necessarily the whole truth, but what will keep the leader popular.

Burnout is common.

I’ve observed team members trying to function under a people pleaser. They feel they have the leader’s support, but then it’s pulled from under them as the leader tries to please someone else. It’s tiring.

Frustration abounds.

People-pleasing leads to fractured teams and fragmented visions.

Mediocrity reigns.

Second best under a people-pleasing leader becomes the new goal not a consolation. Lackluster results ultimately lower standards. In an effort to please everyone, the team compromises what “could be” for what keeps people temporarily happy. (Emphasis on the temporarily.)

Visions stall.

Visions are intended to take us places. Noble places we’ve never been. This involves change. Always. And change is hard. Always. People don’t like change. People-pleasers like people to be happy. You see where this one is going?

Be honest. Ever worked for a people pleaser? Ever been one?

What results did you see?

5 Ways to Lead When You’re Limping

By | Church, Church Planting, Church Revitalization, Leadership | 14 Comments

I entered ministry after a long career in the business world. I had significant life and leadership experience, but honestly, some of it was learned through tremendously painful experiences. Not only did I not have the pedigree of most pastors, it was actually following a sizable business loss when God called me into ministry. We sold a business mostly to get out from under the pressure of it and basically started over financially. It was then that God called me to serve Him vocationally – starting with nothing.

I entered vocational ministry limping.

The truth is the best leaders I know have a limp of some nature. It may not be visible, but if you are around them long, they will display remnants of a previous injury.

They may have had a failure which crippled them for a season. They may have messed up. They may have made a mistake. They may have lost their way. They may have been injured by others. And, as a result, they may have even been tempted to quit, but they pushed forward, never to be the same again.

If this is your story – if you have a limp and you’re in leadership – I want to offer some encouragement by sharing a few suggestions.

Here are 5 ways to lead well when you have a limp:

Don’t hide your limp.

There is most likely a younger leader around you who feels they’ve lost their way – or will some day. They need your guidance. They need your encouragement. They need to see by example they can get up again and move forward. You don’t have to wear a sign around your neck or tell everyone you meet about your limp, but you shouldn’t pretend it isn’t true, either. Your story is your story.

Your limp may be God’s way of keeping you humble. Rahab of the Bible never lost her title as a harlot, even in the faith chapter (Hebrews 11). It reminds me the past is my past – I can’t change it or hide it for long. A great leader never forgets where they came from.

Don’t be a martyr.

No one enjoys a complainer or someone who is always making excuses. You suffered a failure. You had a setback. You made a critical error. You sinned. Others sinned against you. Don’t wallow in your misery forever. It’s not an attractive characteristic in leadership. One of my favorite verses for those of us who limp is Ecclesiastes 11:3. Look it up – recognize it’s true – and deal with it. It’s what you do after you fall, which matters most.

Allow your limp to strengthen you!

You have two choices with a limp. You can allow your limp to make you a better person and leader. Or you can let it keep you from ever being whole again – and never realize your full potential. Grace is available if you will receive it. There may be forgiveness you need to seek or extend. You may need to do other “right things”. But let your limp strengthen your leadership abilities, even if it’s simply learning what not to do next time. Most of us learn more in the hard times than the easy times. Most likely, you will also.

Be empathetic toward other limpers.

There is nothing worse than one with a limp refusing to recognize others who limp. Always remember others have struggles too. If not now, they will. They’re finding their way, just as you did. Extend grace as grace has been given to you.

Keep limping across the finish line.

Don’t give up. Great leaders proudly limp to victory. They cheer on others who limp. They steadfastly keep going towards the goal. And, in the process, they encourage a lot of people and accomplish great things.

Limp well, my leader friend. Limp well.

3 Tips from Jesus Recruiting Methods

By | Church, Leadership | 2 Comments

Every pastor and church I know is trying to recruit more volunteers. As a church planter and church revitalizer, I learned this is especially true those of us who are leading teams during a transition or start-up phase.

In fact, I would even say it will be very difficult to grow a church unless you can first recruit new volunteers.

Having the right people on the team is paramount to the success of any organization. Jesus was the best at recruiting. Look at the Church today and realize it started with Jesus recruiting the original disciples.

What was it about Jesus that made Him a good recruiter? What can we learn from Him in this critical area of ministry?

In John Chapter One, I see three methods Jesus used in recruitment.

Here are 3 tips of a Jesus recruitment methods:

Recruit, experienced transitional people.

Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist and then of Jesus (John 1:35, 40).

It’s common for a leader – especially a new leader – to want their “own” team. It makes sense to surround yourself with some people you know are loyal to you and you can train with your way of doing things.

When developing a team or starting a new team, however, it’s also good to have someone who may have even more experience than you in what you are doing. You need individuals who know how to do what needs to be done, can be influencers to the rest of the team, and who have proven their loyalty on other teams. These people are valuable assets to any team.

In my last pastorate role, the associate pastor offered me his resignation before I arrived. He had been at the church 15 years or so and had weathered good times and bad in the church. I refused to accept it. Instead, I encouraged him to move into a larger office – next to mine – gave him greater decision-making authority, and worked to earn his trust. He was invaluable in my success at the church. I’m confident I also gained a loyal friend for life.

Allow the team to help recruit the team.

Andrew found Simon — Philip found Nathanael. (John 1:41, 45) Apparently, Jesus allowed some of the disciples to help recruit other disciples. The team helped add to the team.

This is a great reminder when you are building a team, adding other team members, or replacing a team member. Get your team involved in recruiting. Their support will increase for the new recruits – and, by spreading the search process – you’ll have an increased chance of finding better people.

When I arrived in the last position, I made sure I had hiring authority. I think it’s critical for a leader’s success. I would have been foolish, however, not to include others in the selection process, so I had several people interview and meet with the new staff members prior to them joining our team. My wife was one of those who assisted me. They helped me by lending credibility to the new staff and making sure I was being wise in the decisions we made.

Recruit people who are ready for a challenge.

Some of the disciples Jesus recruited were apparently already looking for the Messiah. (John 1:38, 41, 45) They were ready for Him when He came, because they were already seeking something. Jesus recruited with big asks – basically, “Drop everything else and follow me!” I’d say this is a big ask.

Obviously, I’m not Jesus, but I believe it is important when looking for new people on a team to find people who will buy into your vision as a leader, who will remain loyal over time and who are ready for a challenge. If you have to talk them into something, or gain their initial trust after the hire, you’ll waste valuable time before they completely commit. (This doesn’t mean there aren’t deeper levels of trust to be gained over time, but initially they should be convinced this is where God wants them to be.)

One practice I have continually used in recruiting new team members is to talk them out of taking the position – after I’m sure they want the job and I want them to take it. I want to help them test their hearts. I want them to know the unique challenges ahead (as far as I know them at the time). I don’t hide anything – even the less than glamorous parts.

We hired several staff members on faith the first year in the last church I pastored. The budget did not support them, but we believed God would provide. He did. This was almost always the case when I was in a church plant. If someone is still interested after they know all the down sides of the position then I am more assured they will make a great addition to the team.

Of course, there are so many others. Look for heart more than for pedigree of past accomplishments. Find people from diverse backgrounds. Challenge people beyond what they think they can do. These are just a few from one chapter.

Perhaps some of the recruiting methods of Jesus can help you in your recruitment.

7 Things As A Pastor I Wanted From The Church

By | Church, Encouragement | 25 Comments

As pastor, I served in such generous churches. Almost every week someone sent me a note or an email to tell me they were praying for me. I routinely got encouragement when I need it most. Some of our closest friends were at the churches where I served as pastor. I’m so thankful for the body of Christ God allowed us to serve.

A question I received often was, “Pastor, what can I do for you?” or “How can I pray for you?”

I was so thankful for that kind of heart.

The church always did plenty for me, but since they asked – and I assume you may wonder what you can do for your pastor…

Here’s what I loved receiving from the church:

  • Understanding that I’m human and will make mistakes.
  • Prayers that I would stay focussed, committed and faithful.
  • Seeing a need within the church or community and meeting it without being asked.
  • Not looking to be spoon fed, but taking ownership and responsibility for spiritual growth.
  • Realizing that I couldn’t be everywhere or do everything I might  have wished I could.
  • Bringing new people with them to church as often as they could.
  • Making church services a priority over other activities – rather than the opposite.

I realize this is a daunting list.

It would not be an easy list to complete.

But people did ask, so it seemed I had an obligation to share with those who did.

By the way – I love the picture with this post:

Can I get an Amen?

Giving visible feedback to messages – that’s an added bonus!

Pastor, what would you like from your church?

A Flexible Schedule Should Not Mean You’re Always Available

By | Church, Leadership | 6 Comments

In deciding what picture to go with this post, I chose an old pickup truck. Side story, and totally unrelated to this post, my Great Uncle had a truck almost like this. When he passed away the family sold it before I had a chance to express my interest. I would love to have it today.

I have been posting this week about weekly calendars and some thoughts on how I prepare – and even more protect – my own calendar.

In this post I make the case for those of us who have flexible schedules. We work for ourselves, are in a leadership position where we create our own schedule, or just work in an environment where flexibility is allowed. I’ve had such roles for most of my career.

But how is having a flexible schedule like owning a truck?

Well, when I owned a truck, which I loved by the way, I found friends easily. I found friends that I didn’t even know I had, because everyone needs a truck at some point. When you have a truck people seek you out to use it.

And I have found it is often that way when you have a flexible schedule. When you are not tied to certain hours of the day to complete your work people falsely assume your time is always available. And sometimes the person who falsely assumes that is you. 

  • Your schedule is flexible, so you can be the one to go to the bank.
  • Your schedule is flexible, so can you be the one to stop by the store.
  • Your schedule is flexible, so I can meet with you TODAY, right?
  • Your schedule is flexible, so you probably have time to _____.
  • Your schedule is flexible, so don’t start that project today. There’s always tomorrow, right?

What is really being said is:

Your schedule is flexible, so you can be available.

To do what you want to do or – in the case of others sometimes – to do what I want you to do.

As a pastor, for example, I did not have an 8 to 5 job.

I could change my schedule quickly if I needed or chose to do so.

But just because I had a flexible schedule, did not mean I was necessarily available.

  • I always had projects I should be working on at the time.
  • I always had sermons I needed to write.
  • I had assignments, responsibilities and obligations (often I felt I didn’t have enough time to complete).
  • I also needed scheduled time to plan, dream and prepare.

In spite of a flexible schedule, and being fairly disciplined and working lots of hours, I never seemed to have enough time to do all that needed to be done.

So my time was flexible, but it should not have always been available.

I see lots of pastors struggle with the tension a flexible schedule creates for them. Some handle it well and others simply don’t. They are constantly trying to meet every need that comes to them that they seldom have time to do the things that need to get done.

And they aren’t disciplined enough with their own flexible time to do what has to be done before they do what they may want to do. The flexibility of their schedule serves as more a distraction in their productivity than an enhancement of it. 

Here’s a free tip. Sometimes we have to create our own structure, when there is none created for us. One way I handle this tension is to calendar time for everything. I wrote about it HERE. When you put everything on your calendar you can even schedule time for the things you WANT to do. In fact, I would advise you to do so.

Bottom line of this post – Be careful with the gift of flexible schedules. 

You may also want to read The Tension Between Being Accessible and Being Available

The Tension Between Being Available and Being Accessible as a Leader

By | Church, Church Planting, Church Revitalization, Leadership, Organizational Leadership | 38 Comments

As a pastor, the larger the church grew the greater the tension I have felt between being available and being accessible. That has been equally true every time God has given me more leadership responsibility.

Leader, have you ever felt this tension?

And I’ve learned to be effective – and to protect my family and to avoid burnout, I can’t always do both.

Truth be told, there are usually too many demands on my time to always be available. Sometimes there are more requests for my time than hours in the day. As a pastor, Sunday was always coming. Even now, as the senior leader of an organization, I received dozens – some days hundreds – of emails, texts and phone calls – every single day.

As a leader, I simply always be available.

  • I must make the most effective use of my limited time.
  • I may not be the best person to meet with everyone.
  • I must spend time investing in the staff with whom I work.
  • I need to reserve ample time for future planning – and even dreaming. (It is not a luxury, but a necessity.)
  • I may sometimes need to refer people to someone who is more available at the time.

Some weeks, just being honest, sadly, I end up saying “No” more than I get to say “Yes”.

If time were limitless – I’d rather always be available. As with most leaders, it’s easier for me to say yes than it is to say no. I’m always more popular when I do.

But popular isn’t a good goal. It’s seldom an effective goal.

I can’t always be available, but this shouldn’t mean I’m unreachable.

I try to always be accessible.

  • I genuinely want people to be served and to serve people.
  • I can easily be found online. (I don’t hide my contact information.)
  • I respond to all emails and return phone calls in a reasonable time – hopefully by the end of each day.
  • I hold responsiveness as a huge personal value and lead our team to do likewise.
  • I always try to help people get the help or answer they need.

I realize even this doesn’t make everyone happy. Some want me always available to them. But the goal of leadership is not to make everyone happy – it’s to lead people to a better reality than today. To do this, I must make effective use of my time.

I share this because there are so many pastors facing real burnout. They are struggling with effectiveness. Their family life is suffering. All because they tried to always be available, when all they needed to be was accessible.

(By the way, the church leaders in Acts 6 understood this tension. Read it again to see how they responded.)

Pastor/leader – the tension is real. But realize you can be accessible even if you’re not always available.

Pastors, do you ever feel the tension between being accessible and being available?

One Secret to Having a More Productive Week

By | Church, Encouragement, Leadership | 13 Comments

Here’s a secret to having a more productive week:

Spend 30 minutes Sunday afternoon or evening, or even early Monday morning, planning your week.

I know that sounds overly simplistic, but it can actually be quite powerful.

Give everything you have to do this week an estimated time and then place it on your calendar.

Make sure you allot time for recreation, exercise and family. Even schedule some time to read and/or dream.

Then try, as hard as you can, to work the plan. When interruptions come in your week, unless they are true emergencies, you have a valid reason to say no.

I don’t do this every week, but I try to especially do this on busy weeks, when the demand on my time is more than I feel I can accomplish, or just when I really want to be most productive.

Let me know how it goes.

And don’t tell anyone – it will be our little secret! 

In my next post I will share a more detailed listing of how I do this.

In the Process of Thinking Big, Don’t Forget to Think Small

By | Church, Encouragement, Funny, Life Plan, Vision | 18 Comments

I remember the day God said something to me!

Well, one of the days. Thankfully I’ve had a few powerful days when I sensed the Creator spoke clearly.

But I’ll be honest, as someone who is supposed to teach others how to have a relationship with God, and to actually hear from God, I’m always somewhat startled when He chooses to speak directly to me. (To be clear, most of the time I have heard God speak it has been through His written word and I know whatever I think I’m hearing would never contradict His word.)

Anyway, a number of years ago, He said something to me that I try to remember in life and leadership.

Let me set up the scenario for you, so you’ll understand the context.

On this particular week I was at the beach. My oldest son, Jeremy, was getting married and our youngest son Nate was his best man. I got to perform the ceremony. How cool is that? It was one of my all time favorite moments as a dad.

Anyway, on this morning I went for a morning run. As a runner, when I was out of town I normally ran farther, because the scenery changed. I had run 4 1/2 miles before I realized how long I’d been running. I decided to stop, buy a cold drink, and sit and look at the beach for a few minutes before running back. (Oh how I wish I could still run 9 miles in a day.)

As I was sitting there, I became enchanted with the size and power of the waves. I watched a little boy running away from them, and nearly get knocked down by one. I saw a couple walking the beach get splashed unexpectedly. Mostly, however, I just saw the beach being pounded by wave after wave after wave. I have been to the beach many times and I never get tired of watching the ocean display God’s glory. In that moment, I did as I’ve done so many times before sitting at the beach – I bragged to God about His handiwork.

I prayed something like this, “God, this is so majestic, so powerful, and You made it all. Every powerful wave I’m seeing today was hand-shaped by You! You are a mighty God! You do huge things! You are so incredible and worthy to be praised! What a mighty God I serve!”

Have you ever had such emotions flood you when you see God’s creation? 

Anyway, as I was praying, I sensed God say something else. It was almost as if He said, “Hold on Ron, (I always love that He knows my name) you’re talking so fast and thinking so big, you may have missed something.” I paused to listen to God and it seemed I heard Him say:

“In the process of thinking big, don’t forget to think small.”

I sensed it was Him, because I recalled the verse in Zechariah, which says, “Do not despise these small beginnings”. I also know God counts hairs on our head and He notices the sparrow. He apparently took time to “paint” the tiny spots on a Lady Bug also.

Then this passage came to my mind:

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you. Psalm 139:17-18

Instantly, I looked down and noticed the sand all around me. I was reminded that God made every grain of sand. I’ve been told that no two grains of sand are the same. And my God knows each one of them. The Bible seems to indicate God may know how many grains there are. (Or at least He could count them.) I think He does. He’s all-knowing.

I don’t know exactly all God was teaching me in that moment. I know I’m a big thinker. I always have a new dream. I was currently in a season of planning big things – good, hopefully God-honoring things. It is one of my favorite things to do.

I don’t think He was telling me not to think big. He gave me my creative mind. I’ll obviously never out-think Him and He tends to stretch us towards bigger dreams in His word (“No eye has seen, no mind has conceived, what God has prepared”).

I think He may have simply, kindly and gently reminded me that “In the process of thinking big, don’t forget to think small.

I think He may not want me overlook the smallest moments of life, such as holding the hand of the one I love, or hearing a baby giggle in the coffee shop, or the glance at a picture on my desk that reminds me of my wonderful family – or turning on the faucet and getting clean water to fill my glass. Sometimes in leadership I can be so focused on the overwhelming problems and obstacles we face that I fail to notice and celebrate the small steps of progress we are making.

You could add your own small things you shouldn’t take for granted.

Sometimes the small things ARE the big things.

How are you doing at enjoying the “seemingly” small things of life?